Drone Delivery Becomes a Reality in Remote Pacific Islands
Currently, health workers in Vanuatu often hike over mountains to deliver vaccines–but drones can fly over them. This September, delivery drones will begin to fly the friendly skies of Vanuatu. And this isn’t a one-shot demonstration, like many of the stunts we’ve seen from the likes of Amazon and Google.
This is an attempt to make drones part of the medical infrastructure. The South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, a string of 83 volcanic islands spread over 1600 kilometers (995 miles), has just issued a “request for tender” to drone companies around the world. The companies are invited to submit bids for bringing vaccines to scattered hospitals and health clinics on three islands.
With a government contract available for each of the islands, up to three companies will then begin a two-month trial in September. Companies have a chance to prove both their technology and, just as importantly, their business model. For all the optimism that delivery drones will make economic sense in this context—where lightweight and urgently needed packages must be transported acrosswild and mountainous landscapes with few roads—the premise has yet to be proven.
The South Pacific nation of Vanuatu is composed of 83 volcanic islands spread over 1600 kilometers. The conditions in Vanuatu make vaccine distribution a tough challenge. Today, shipments are flown from the three major islands (which have cities and airports and such) to small rural islands in 9-seater planes.
When a plane rolls to a stop on the grass airstrip, it’s met by someone from the local health clinic—but that’s assuming that one of the few trucks on the island is available and in working order.